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Colombia trip advice

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  • DorsetFlyer

    Hi,

    Just wondering if anyone has any advice or experience about a trip/travel round Colombia.
    We are planning a 2 week trip in January 2023.

    Thinking of following plan:
    Bogota – 2 nights (Hilton)
    Coffee triangle – 3 nights
    Medellin – 2 nights (Hilton Hampton Inn)
    Cartagena – 3 nights (Curio – Nacar Hotel)
    Santa Marta – 2-3 nights (Marriott resort)
    Back to Bogota – 1 night

    Any thoughts about lengths of time in each place? Or places I have missed which are a “must-do”?
    Or advice if any of the possible hotels are worth dropping off/switching.

    Hilton Diamond, hence the focus on Hilton brand hotels.

    Many Thanks

    SamG

    Having spent a lot of time in Bogota this year unless you’ve got some specific interests there a day will be plenty in my opinion so depending on arrival / departure times you could cut that to one night

    Personally this is too much travelling for a holiday for me and I’d drop a stop and extend Santa Marta. Potentially Cartagena

    DorsetFlyer

    Hi Sam,

    Re Bogotá – the flight arrival/departure times give us 2 full days essentially (1 full day on arrival and then most of the day we leave). Sounds like it might be too much even with that limited time.

    Thanks for the advice about Cartagena. Would you skip this? As a UNESCO site I assumed the old city would be worth visiting?

    Tom

    elguiri

    Agree with SamG that is too much travelling. Bear in mind the time you’d take from the airport (eg from Bogota to central hotels can take upwards of an hour, more if raining…).

    You don’t say what you like in a holiday (beach, museums, architecture, food…) but Dec and Jan are the best times to visit weather-wise. Not too hot on the coast as there is a nice breeze.

    If in Bogota the Gold Museum is worth visiting, and the presidential palace is nice architecturally. Go up the mountain (Monserrate) by cablecar for great views of the sprawling city. Foodwise try tamales for breakfast and ‘mango biche’ for snack. If you like ale, go to the Bogota Beer Company (BBC).
    Sunday is bicycle day where Bogota’s main roads close to traffic and open for bikes and runners (if you like cycling), this makes getting around very difficult by taxi (compared to being stuck in jams on the other days of the week).

    Medellin is my favourite city, and spending some time here at the Museum de Antioquia to see Botero sculptures and paintings is well worth it. You should take the tour bus that shows you a lot of the city and takes you up to the Pueblo Paisa.
    Eat: Bandeja Paisa (make sure you didn’t have any breakfast), arepas, sancocho. I would take time to visit some of the villages outside of the city too, they are a completely different experience (as is the road trip to them) and well worth a couple of days.

    Cartagena has the castle and the old town to see. Lovely fish restaurants, and try the patacones and coconut rice. Also the ice cold fruit juices (mango, papaya, guava…) and the

    Santa Marta is mainly the beach, but if you prefer, go further along to the nature reserve (parque tayrona), or up into the mountains around Minca for hiking experiences.

    Barranquilla if interested in the carnival (great museum) and the old port. Also visit the Hotel el Prado.
    Along the coast you should try the hot dogs (perritos) – they have whole menus to the different types available (favourite italo-hawaiano). Also try the ‘chuzo de pollo desgranizado’ and wash it all down with an aguila (or Club Rojo if not a lager person).

    Any other questions, happy to help, have been visiting Colombia for over a decade.

    Richie

    The Gold museum in Santa Marta is better than the one in Bogota. Botero museum in Bogota is very good. I’d do a min of 3 nights in Santa Marta. The boat trips from Cartagena to small islands are great. A roof top pool and bar can be really good in Cartagena for sunset drinks. Don’t skip Cartagena.

    SamG

    It’s quite a personal decision as to what to skip depending on what you enjoy doing but personally I didn’t find Cartagena offered much that I’d really go out of my way for on 2 week trip if it meant skipping the other places on your list. But equally it’s a great city too. The reality is Colombia offers plenty enough to fill multiple holidays and you have to accept you can’t do it all in one trip!

    KLM actually offers a good flight option as their flight stops there on the way home so you can plan an itinerary that doesn’t require you to go back to Bogota to leave

    DorsetFlyer

    Thanks for all the swift advice!

    Flights – We were thinking Iberia via Madrid on avios. But will take a look at KLM if that means an easier route home.

    Totally agree already that we can’t fit in everything in 2 weeks. Definitely assuming a trip back another time to cover more ground.

    None of you are mentioning Coffee Triangle – Pereira, Armenia etc. Would that be worth dropping on this trip so facilitate the extra nights elsewhere?

    GillyDee

    We’ve just come back from a month long trip, Bogota, Inirida, Otun, Montezuma, Manizales, Jardin, Medellin, Santa Marta, El Dorado, Minca and Cartagena – mostly birdwatching with a bit of culture. In hindsight 6 weeks would have been better with longer breaks in Jardin and Medellin and I would only have spent a couple of days in Cartagena (rather than 4) but stayed inside the walled city. I’ll like to go back to Colombia; we barely scratched the surface.

    As for coffee culture, we liked Jardin. We stayed at the Divina Providencia (utterly delightful) which was a short ride or a 20 minute walk from the centre of the town. Had a nice morning at a local coffee plantation. Apia was less touristy but more authentic.

    Domestic flights with Avianca and Viva were good, Satena had a rather flexible outlook on flight schedules…

    DorsetFlyer

    Thanks everyone.
    Really useful info, tips and recommendations.

    yonasl

    Just did a very similar trip this summer: Medellin-coffee triangle-santa marta-Cartagena-Bogota.

    Having done hat I would maybe remove Santa Marta. While it is more authentic than Cartagena (less touristy) unless you are going to spend proper time in the Tirona (natural park) you get a good feeling of the Caribe in Cartagena.

    I did enjoy Bogota but was there with a local. The centre is well worth a couple of days (museo del oro, museo botero, etc.) You have excellent restaurants at very reasonable prices for our GBP/EUR based economies.

    We did a mix of driving around and flying with Avianca (their “expensive” tariff includes luggage and the option to rebook flights so it is quite good if your plans change). Driving is challenging, 200km from Medellin to the coffee area took us 8hrs. You do not need cars in most cities as Uber is everywhere and great to move around.

    zapato1060

    Hi some brilliant advice here and this from a native Colombian, I will try and give tips that arent already mentioned! Try to cut your time in Bogota to the bare minimum, not because of the city as its stunning but because of the shocking traffic. I was there 2 months ago and as they are starting to build their metro service after decades of indecision the traffic is beyond shocking. Stand still is an understatement. Hope your not staying at Hilton Usaquen, hotel fine, distance is not.

    Medellin is such a fantastic place and we stayed at Hampton Inn too, great hotel. Centrally located.

    Cabify is a great alternative to Uber.

    Try to fly between destinations, driving takes a whole lot and eats into your day. There is also another airline Ultra Air which is new and has some ready dirt cheap flights.

    As for safety, try to refrain from wearing jewellery but for the most part during days its very safe. At night, its a different ball game. Be weary of your sorroundings and only go into areas heavily populated. And please word of caution, do not under any circumstances accept “free” massages, or braids or drinks from hasslers on beaches especially Cartagena. A simple stern ‘no gracias’ will suffice.

    in supermarkets you may be asked for ID for card payments, take note just in case. Carry a photocopy of passport or picture on your phone as well.

    Eat arepas (wether with cheese on top or arepas rellenas that are filled with meat). Frijoles. Bandeja Paisa from Medellin. Ajiaco from Bogota. In beautiful town of Salento, 1 hour from Armenia, you can try their famous patacones (large plantain).

    Use google maps for restaurants as it has brilliant reviews. Before you go try to get a 3 SIM card inc top up and use it here first (text will do) which means when you go to Colombia you can roam for free with usual 12GB monthly limit.

    If you are into some activities I suggest Canopy Los Caracolies in Quindio for zip lines and fun and nearby too is the famous Parque del Cafe, coffee theme park set in the coffee region itself.

    SamG

    The 3 sims have become rather poor I have found- USA and Colombia I’ve tried recently and had trouble with speeds and connections

    Airalo is good or you can get one locally. I have used Colombian Buddy for airport transfers & trips ( recommended !) And they can bring you a local sim to the airport if they do your transfers which is handy

    What a great thread – inspiring me to do another trip!!

    One thing I wanted to add as well if you’re considering business class flights then avoid Avianca, their onboard service out of LHR is comically bad !

    DorsetFlyer

    Awesome input from loads of people. Thank you
    Too many ideas for one trip now! Can’t extend this one, so will mean going back at least once.

    yonasl

    Since somebody mentioned avoiding Avianca I must give a thumbs up for Iberia Business as a way to get there. You can do London-Madrid (stays one night) then Madrid-Bogota and return Bogota-Madrid-London for very good rates plus if you time it well manage to be on the 330/350 from and into London.

    SamG

    Good value with miles too – best to book it as Lon-mad / mad-bog / bog-mad-lon (or Manchester) so you can go straight through on the way home

    I’m not sure now but earlier this year one way cash fares out of Bogota to UK were a bargain as well.

    I thought the product was pretty decent and don’t really understand their bad reputation. good seats, proper service (better than BA!) The T4 lounge was good and the crew we had were delightful. + now you get T3 lounges at LHR

    yonasl

    IB crew was awful even to me as a Spaniard. I think this is what gets them the bad rep. However food was amazing (served by course), wine is excellent and the Barajas Lounges are ok too. Bad aspects would be the lack of snacks (so don’t be hungry mid flight) and again the crew attitude who sometimes feel like they are annoyed of being there.

    Return flights LON-MAD-BOG-LON (via MAD) were GBP 1,400 for J this summer which is excellent value since taxes on BA would be GBP 1,000 on an Avios redemption. (I wonder if spending a few days in Madrid reduced the UK levy)

    elguiri

    Also another vote for Iberia via Madrid. We did RFS for Madrid, stayed a night between both out and back, mainly to give the littleun a bit of a break from sitting in a plane seat for so long.
    We have done this route a handful of times, and service can be mixed. Yes, they don’t have much available between meals, and sometimes you get cabin crew that aren’t very friendly, but we have also had some very good ones – inc one who offered to walk our then infant up and down to give us some respite.
    Meals were good, much better than BA of late.
    Do think you need the break in Madrid though as we have had some very close calls previously with connections there.

    Another option is to go to eg Miami (NY, Houston and others also work) and fly from there to the coast (Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and even Medellin possible).

    DorsetFlyer

    Thanks all again for the advice.
    Flights now booked and firming up plan for our time in country.

    We are going to drop Cartagena, and keep Santa Marta – sounds more authentic and has the mix of beach and hiking at Parque Tayrona too. Hopefully that gives us less moves and more time to experience the people and the culture in all our stops.

    yonasl

    Thanks all again for the advice.
    Flights now booked and firming up plan for our time in country.

    We are going to drop Cartagena, and keep Santa Marta – sounds more authentic and has the mix of beach and hiking at Parque Tayrona too. Hopefully that gives us less moves and more time to experience the people and the culture in all our stops.

    If you go to Santa Marta instead of Cartagena I would recommend getting a car (use Localiza) to be independent in the area. Prices are reasonable and getting the full insurance is cheap and allows you to enjoy the drive and not worry about slight bumps on the road (and there will be a few).

    Authenticity comes with a degree of caution in the area. For Santa Marta remain in the centre and ask locals about areas not to wander into (it is the only place in Colombia where I was slightly worried even while driving in the car).

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